by Starsky Hutch 76, adapted from Fargo, screenplay by Ethan Coen and Joel Cohen
As Lois Kent pulled up in her minivan, she saw two police cars and an ambulance idling at the side of the road, a pair of men inside each car.
The first car’s driver door opened. A figure in a parka emerged, holding two styrofoam cups. His partner leaned across the seat to close the door after him.
Lois approached from her own car. “Hiya, Lou.”
“Lois… thought you might need a little warm-up,” said Lou Olsen, handing her one of the cups of coffee.
“So you knew I’d be here. Am I getting that predictable?” Lois smiled.
Lou grinned back at her. “Actually, we were kind of counting on it. I figured you wouldn’t have time to drop by the Gazette offices before you got here. I’ve noticed you tend to like taking on these crime stories yourself instead of sending one of your reporters. Managing editor’s privilege, I suppose.”
Lois chuckled. “Something like that. My only full-time reporter is already chasing a lead on a rumor that this unseasonal weather was caused by a super-villain — the new Icicle or Minister Blizzard, or one of those types. I’m not so sure, but it might turn into a good scoop, nonetheless.” Taking a sip of the coffee, she asked, “So what’s the story here? Triple homicide?”
“Yeah, looks pretty bad. Two of them are over here,” Lou said.
Laid out in the early morning light was the wrecked car, a pair of footprints leading out to a man in a bright orange parka face down in the bloodstained snow, and one pair of footsteps leading back to the road.
Lois peered into the car. “Here’s the second one. It’s in the head and the hand there. I guess that’s a defensive wound. OK.” Lois looked up from the car. “Where’s the state trooper?”
Lou, up on the shoulder, jerked his thumb. “Back there a good piece. In the ditch next to his car.”
Lois looked around at the road. “OK, so we’ve got a state trooper who pulls someone over, we’ve got a shooting, and these folks drive by, and we’ve got a high-speed pursuit, ends here, and this execution-type deal.”
“Yeah,” Lou said, nodding.
“I’d be very surprised if our suspect was from Smallville,” Lois said. Lou nodded in agreement.
Lois studied the ground. “Yeah. And I’ll tell you what, from his footprints, he looks like a big fella.” She suddenly doubled over, putting her head between her knees down near the snow.
“Ya see something down there, Lois?
“Uh… I just — I think I’m going to be sick,” Lois said, groaning.
“Geez, you OK, Lois?”
“I’m fine. It’s just morning sickness.” Lois got up, sweeping snow from her knees. “Well, that passed.”
“Yeah. Now I’m hungry again.”
“You had breakfast yet, Lois?”
“Oh, yeah,” Lois said. “Clark made some eggs.”
“Yeah? Well, what now, d’ya think?” Lou asked. It fascinated him to watch her mind work, which was why he allowed her far more leeway than he would ever have given another reporter. With her experience as a big-city reporter in Metropolis, she’d seen enough crime scenes to last a lifetime.
“Let’s go take a look at that trooper,” Lois said.
Lois got on her hands and knees by a body down in the ditch, again looking at the footprints in the snow. She called up to the road, “There’s two of ’em, Lou!”
“This guy’s smaller than his buddy.”
Lois, still on her hands and knees, peered at the head of the state trooper. “How’s it look, Lois?” Lou asked.
“Well, he’s still got his gun on his hip. No one’s monkeyed with his car, have they?” Lois asked.
Lou gave her a wry look. “No way.”
Lois looked at the police car, which still idled on the shoulder. “Somebody shut off his lights. I guess the little guy sat in there, waiting for his buddy to come back.”
“Yeah, would’a been cold out here,” Lou nodded in agreement.
“You look in his citation book?” Lois asked.
Lou looked at his notebook. “Last vehicle he wrote in was a tan Ciera at 2:18 A.M. Under the plate number he put in DLR — I figure they stopped him or shot him before he could finish fillin’ out the tag number,” Lou said.
“Uh-huh,” Lois said thoughtfully.
“So I got the state lookin’ for a Ciera with a tag startin’ DLR. They don’t got a match yet.”
“I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent there, Lou.”
“What do you mean?” Lou said.
“I think that vehicle there probably had dealer plates. DLR?” Lois said.
“Oh…” Lou gazed out the window, thinking. “Geez.”
Jerry Lundegaard, Wade Gustafson, and Stan Grossman sat in a booth at Embers Family Restaurant, sipping coffee. Outside the window, snow fell from a gunmetal sky.
“All’s I know is, ya got a problem, ya call a professional!” Wade growled.
“No! They said no cops, and no costumes! They were darned clear on that, Wade!” Jerry exclaimed. “They said you call the cops or a cape on this, and we–”
“Well, o’ course they’re gonna say that!” cried Wade. “But where’s my protection? They got Jean here! I give these sons o’ bitches a million dollars, where’s my guarantee they’re gonna let her go?”
“Well, they–” Jerry started.
“A million dollars is a lot o’ damn money!” Wade yelled. “Do I look like Bruce Wayne to you? And then they still got my daughter!”
“Yeah, but think this thing through here, Wade,” said Jerry. “Ya give ’em what they want, why won’t they let her go? You gotta listen to me on this one, Wade.”
“Heck, you don’t know! You’re just whistlin’ Dixie here!” said Wade. “I’m sayin’ they can help us on this! I’m sayin’ call a professional! Maybe not the JSA, but one of the other–”
“No! No costumes! That’s final!” said Jerry. “This is my deal here, Wade! Jean is my wife here!”
“I gotta tell ya, Wade, I’m leanin’ to Jerry’s viewpoint here,” Stan said.
“Well…” Wade grumbled.
“We gotta protect Jean,” Stan continued. “And it’s not like Smallville has any of its own heroes you could call, anyway. Never has. We’re not holdin’ any cards here, Wade; they got all of ’em. So they call the shots.”
“You’re darned tootin’!” Jerry said emphatically.
“Ah, dammit!” Wade growled.
“I’m tellin’ ya,” Stan said.
“Well… why don’t we…?” Wade sawed a finger under his nose. “Stan, I’m thinkin’ we should offer ’em half a million.”
“Now come on here — no way, Wade!” Jerry cried. “No way!”
“We’re not horse-trading here, Wade,” Stan said, flabbergasted. “We just gotta bite the bullet on this thing.”
“Yeah!” Jerry said.
“What’s the next step here, Jerry?” Stan asked.
“They’re gonna call, give me instructions for a drop,” Jerry said. “I’m supposed to have the money ready tomorrow.”
“Dammit!” Wade groaned.
The cashier rang up two dollars, forty cents. “How was everything today?”
“Real good now,” Jerry said.
Out in the parking lot, snow continued to fall. Jerry and Stan stood bundled in their parkas and galoshes near a row of beached vehicles. Wade sat behind the wheel of his idling Lincoln, waiting for Stan.
“OK. We’ll get the money together. Don’t worry about it, Jerry,” Stan said reassuringly. “Now, do you want anyone at home with you until they call?”
“No, I… they don’t want — they’re just supposed to be dealin’ with me,” said Jerry. “They were real clear.”
“Yeah,” Stan said, nodding sympathetically.
Jerry pounded his mittened hands together against the cold. “You know, they said no one listening in, they’ll be watching, you know. Maybe it’s all bull, but like you said, Stan, they’re callin’ the shots.”
“OK. And Scotty, is he gonna be all right?” Stan asked.
“Yeah, geez, Scotty. I’ll go talk to him,” Jerry said.
There was a tap at the horn from Wade, and Stan got into the Lincoln. “We’ll call.” The Lincoln spat snow as it ground out of the lot and fishtailed out onto the boulevard.
At the Smallville Police Department, Lois Kent made her way across the floor, greeting various officers who, in turn, greeted her almost as if she were a regular member of the force. She came to a cubicle and sat down in the extra chair, shifting to make her ample form comfortable. “How we doin’ on that vehicle, Lou?”
“‘We’?” Lou Olsen grinned wryly. She smiled back at him as if she had every right to be there, and he let the matter drop. It was a conversation they’d had plenty of times before. “No motels registered any tan Ciera last night,” he answered with a sigh. “But the night before, two men checked into the Blue Ox registering a Ciera and leavin’ the tag space blank.”
“That’s a good lead. The Blue Ox — that’s that joint out on I-35?”
“Yeah. Owner was on the desk then, said these two guys had company,” Lou said.
“Oh, yeah?” Lois said, raising an eyebrow.
Outside the strip joint, Lois’ minivan was parked in an otherwise-empty lot. Snow drifted down. Inside, Lois sat talking with two young women at one end of an elevated dance platform.
Lois looked out of place, but her years as a reporter had made her used to such establishments. The club, not yet open for business, was deserted. Lois talked to two strippers who were known to moonlight as truckstop hookers.
“Where you girls from?” Lois asked.
“Mont Pilate,” the first stripper said.
“LeSeure,” the second stripper said. “But I went to high school in Midvale.”
“OK, I want you to tell me what these fellas looked like,” Lois said.
“Well, the little guy, he was kinda funny-looking,” the first stripper said.
“In what way?” Lois asked.
“I dunno. Just funny-looking.”
“Can you be any more specific?” Lois asked.
“I couldn’t really say.”
“Is there anything else you can tell me about him?”
“No. Like I say, he was funny-looking. More than most people, even.”
“And what about the other fella?” Lois asked.
“He was a little older. Looked the Marlboro man,” the second stripper said.
“Yeah?” Lois said, writing the description down in her notepad.
“Yeah. Maybe I’m sayin’ that cause he smoked a lot of Marlboros.”
“Y’know, a subconscious-type thing.”
“Yeah, that can happen,” Lois said.
“Yeah…” the second stripper said thoughtfully.
“They said they were goin’ to Smallville to take care of some business,” the first stripper said.
“Oh, yeah?” Lois said.
“Yeah,” the second stripper said, nodding.
“Is that useful to you?” the first stripper asked.
“Oh, definitely,” Lois said.
Jerry was on the sales floor at Gustafson’s Olds Garage showing a customer a vehicle when he heard his phone ring. He excused himself and went to his cubicle, picking up the phone. “Jerry Lundegaard.”
“All right, Jerry, you got this phone to yourself?” the voice on the other end asked.
“Well… yeah,” Jerry said.
“Know who this is?”
“Well, yeah, I got an idea. How’s that Ciera workin’ out for ya?”
“Circumstances have changed, Jerry,” said Carl Showalter.
“Well, what do you mean?” Jerry asked.
“Things have changed. Circumstances, Jerry. Beyond the, uh… acts of God, force majeure.”
“What the–? How’s Jean?” Jerry snapped.
There was a pause. “Who’s Jean?”
“My wife! What the — how’s–?” Jerry started.
“Oh, Jean’s OK. But there’s three people who aren’t so OK, I’ll tell ya that,” Carl said.
“What the heck are you talkin’ about?” Jerry asked. “Let’s just finish up this deal here.”
“Blood has been shed, Jerry,” Carl said. Jerry sat dumbly, and Carl solemnly repeated, “Blood has been shed.”
“What the heck do you mean?”
“Three people. Outside of town,” Carl said.
“That’s right. And we need more money,” Carl said.
“The heck d’ya mean? What a’ you guys got yourself mixed up in?!” Jerry exclaimed.
“We need more,” Carl started.
“This was s’posed to be a no-rough-stuff-type deal,” Jerry said.
“Don’t ever interrupt me, Jerry — just shut up!” Carl screamed.
“Well, I’m sorry, but I just — I–”
“Look, I’m not gonna debate you, Jerry,” Carl said. “The price is now the whole amount. We want the entire eighty-thousand.”
“Oh, for Chrissakes here,” Jerry said.
“Blood has been shed,” Carl said. “We’ve incurred risks, Jerry. I’m coming into town tomorrow. Have the money ready.”
“Now we had a deal here! A deal’s a deal!” Jerry said.
“Is it, Jerry? You ask those three poor souls if a deal’s a deal! Go ahead, ask ’em!” Carl yelled.
“The heck d’ya mean?!” Jerry exclaimed.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Carl said, hanging up.
Jerry slammed down the phone, which immediately rang. He angrily snatched it up. “Yeah!”
“This is Reilly Deifenbach at GMAC. Sir, I have not yet received those vehicle IDs you promised me.”
“Yeah! I… those are in the mail,” Jerry said nervously.
“Mr. Lundegaard, that may very well be. I must inform you, however, that absent the receipt of those numbers by tomorrow afternoon, I will have to refer this matter to our legal department.”
“My patience is at an end.”
“Good day, sir.”
Jerry slammed down the receiver, rose to his feet, flung the phone to the floor, raised his desk blotter high over his head with pens and pencils rolling off it, and slammed it onto his desktop. He stood for a moment, hands on his hips, glaring, then stooped and picked up the phone, placed it back on the desktop, and started picking up the pens and pencils.
Lois Kent sat at a long, cafeteria-style formica table, silently eating. She turned at the sound of a hissing walkie-talkie. It was Lou.
“How you doin’, Lois? How’s the fricasse?”
“Pretty good. You want some?” Lois said.
“No, I gotta…”
“Whatcha got there?” Lois asked.
Lou handed her a file. She took it with one hand and looked at it, her other hand frozen with a forkful of food.
“The numbers you asked for. Calls made from the lobby pay phone at the Blue Ox off of I-35. Two into Smallville that night.”
“First one’s a trucking company, second one’s a private residence. A Shep Proudfoot.”
“Uh-huh… a what?” Lois asked.
“Shep Proudfoot. That’s a name,” Lou said.
“OK, I think drive down there, then,” Lois said, closing the file.
That night, Jerry Lundegaard, Wade Gustafson, and Stan Grossman sat around the kitchen table at the Lundegaard house. It was night. The harsh light from the overhanging fixture served to illustrate the stress they were all feeling. On the table were the remains of coffee, a cinnamon filbert ring, and a copy of Newstime with the Flash on the cover.
“Dammit! I wanna be a part o’ this thing!” Wade said.
“No, Wade! They were real clear!” said Jerry. “They said they’d call tomorrow, with instructions, and it’s gonna be delivered by me alone!”
“It’s my money — I’ll deliver. What do they care?” Wade said.
“Wade’s got a point there,” Stan said. “I”ll handle the call if you want, Jerry.”
“No, no. See… they, no, see, they only deal with me,” Jerry insisted. “Ya feel this nervousness on the phone there, they’re very… these guys are dangerous.”
“All the more reason!” Wade said. “I don’t want you, with all due respect, Jerry… I don’t want you mucking this up.”
“The heck d’ya mean?” Jerry said, offended.
“They want my money, they can deal with me. Otherwise, I’m goin’ to a professional,” Wade said, pointing to the briefcase. “There’s a million dollars here!”
“Look, Jerry, you’re not selling me a damn car,” said Wade. “It’s my show here. That’s that.”
“It’s the way we prefer to handle it, Jerry,” Stan said.
Lois picked up the receiver of the public phone. “Lou? This is Lois. I thought I’d check in with you about that USIF search on Shep Proudfoot… Oh, yeah? Well, maybe I’ll visit with him if I have the… No, I can find that… Well, thanks a bunch.”